By Michael Kelly
Kelly’s All the Things We Never See is a compelling collection of unsettling short stories. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this collection was the quick-read literary snack I was looking for. It is filled to the brim with everything from haikus to one-pagers to chapter length yarns. Stories range from the horrors of the human condition such as apathy, greed, and loneliness, to ghosties and ghouls from other worlds. It was nigh impossible to pinpoint a singular theme throughout this collection, but that is precisely what makes it so enjoyable to read; with the turn of each page new horrors lie in wait. Reading each of the unique stories within All the Things We Never See one after another leaves you unnerved like that mysterious chill that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. You can’t quite pinpoint what it was that unsettled you, but you most assuredly know that you are.
The opening story in this collection, “The Face That Looks Back At You”, Kelly introduces us to a couple whose relationship is on thin ice, and follow them along as the cracks build and build until they lose themselves within it; the result of their apathy is a self-imposed and inescapable prison. Aside from the obvious visuals, the underlying terror found within this tale lay hidden in the horrors of unspoken truths, miscommunication, isolation, and losing sight of oneself within the context of a relationship. One never knows what secrets someone may be keeping.
“October Dreams” was my personal favourite within the collection. This very short story threw a one-two punch at the dead center of my soul. In the beginning I found myself relating to the imaginative young girl, only to be dragged through the mud and my wildest fears realized by the very end. It’s a subtle little message, but a strong one! The titular story, “All the Things We Never See,” follows Susanna as she searches for her missing husband after finding bizarre discarded notes; we join along as Susanna experiences a shift from her usual jaded, privileged viewpoint and begins to view life from a new perspective finding mystery and intrigue in the familiar. (Plus, what’s not to love about a story which mentions mythological mole-people in the subways?!)
To summarize any more of these narratives would be robbing the reader of a wonderfully weird reading experience. Kelly manages to employ many well-known horror tropes, and yet executes them with new, refreshing perspectives. I loved the rollercoaster-like experiences of the slow-burn as the stories ascend to the top and then immediately upon reaching the climax would hit the sudden death drop. Interspersing the haiku between everything else was a bit jarring yet also quite fitting in a collection of stories that often focus on upsetting the balance of things. At the risk of referencing cliche movie quotes, reading this collection was a bit like opening a box of chocolates; you just never know what you’re going to get. Although All the Things We Never See might not be every reader’s taste, it was certainly the delicious literary snack I was looking for in between my current TBR stack of hefty novels.
Review by Ellen Avigliano
I received a paperback from the publisher for review consideration.